As outdoor nighttime activities increase, so too has demand for quality nightscape design. Studies of nightscape design have taken a variety of research approaches. An important area of study regarding nighttime environments is fear responses to nighttime environments. Higher levels of fear among potential users can inhibit the use of nighttime landscapes. In previous studies, researchers have identified fear as one of the main social issues directly affecting nightscape use, and they suggest that environmental design guidelines are needed to decrease levels of fear.
Recently, eye tracking has become a popular research tool in the development of objective measures of human responses to visual stimuli. Eye-tracking studies have been used extensively in the design of user-friendly computer interfaces, and this approach has more recently been adopted in fields such as marketing, psychology, neurology, and cognitive neuroscience. Although this method is rarely used in the field of environmental design, the possibility of adapting eye-tracking methods to this field has been demonstrated in the previous studies.
In this study, we attempt to build on these prior efforts to investigate people’s fear responses to different outdoor nighttime environments using eye-tracking technology, with the ultimate goal of contributing to the development of nightscape design guidelines. Furthermore, the use of eye-tracking goggles in this study represents a new application of eye-tracking technology to the study of nightscapes—one that allows for the study of eye movements in response to real outdoor environments (referred to as actual environments throughout this study), as well as simulated images or photographs of nightscapes (referred to as image-based environments throughout this study). Furthermore, comparison of our study results in actual environments with those of a prior eye-tracking study using image-based environments provides a means of examining the validity of image-based studies.
Mintai Kim received his MLA and PhD in Environmental Planning from the University of California at Berkeley. He taught at the University of California at Berkeley and at the University of Arizona before he joined Virginia Tech in 2007.
His research focuses on environmental disturbances resulting from urbanization. He has published papers on urbanization’s effects on stream quality, avian species distribution, and nighttime light pollution. His current research focus examines disturbances of the urban nightscape. He developed a way to examine light pollution using helicopters and ground-level light measurements. He is currently using eye-tracking devices to understand fear of nightscapes.